Belmont Town Meeting 2012, Night Two
Welcome back after three weeks off. Tonight is the special town meeting articles.
7 p.m. Welcome back, everyone. After a week and a fortnight (love that word) away, the 2012 Belmont Town Meeting reconvenes to begin passing around the town's money in the auditorium of Belmont High School.
You can view the Town Meeting on one of Belmont Media Center's cable channels (I forgot which one!)
The representative legislative body of the town debated and voted on a limited number of non-financial articles back on April 23 with the creation of a stabilization fund for repairs and capital improvements for Minuteman Tech High School voted down by Town Meeting.
Tonight the reps will begin with the financial articles starting with the convening of a Special Town Meeting – for those articles offered after the initial closing of the town warrant – with Minuteman Tech back before Town Meeting this time for a re-assessment (additional funds) for repairs to its building after it was deemed a fire hazard by a new assistant fire chief from the Lexington Fire Department.
Next up is the creation of a new special education stabilization fund, contributions into the large ($182 million) Other Post-Employment Benefits to town retirees.
Expect some added discussion on extending the overlay district for the development of the Video One building on Trapelo Rd. and changing the date of town elections - which have been on Mondays since anyone can remember - to Tuesday! Heavens, what about tradition?!
7:09 p.m. Moderator Mike Widmer is ready and off we go with the Pledge of Allegiance.
FYI: The Celtics are ahead 13-5 over Philly.
7:13 p.m. First up are reports from the Belmont Municipal Light Department and the Library Board of Trustees. Matt Lowrie is talking about the status of the new Library. The board is second on the waiting list but now think that the board will be get funded - $7.5 million from the state - in July. But there remains a problem with replacing the girls' softball field. "We can't afford it, we can't not afford not to do it."
It will be $9.5M for the new library or $6.5M to maintain the existing one. Interviewed private fundraisers and ready to get ready. Now raised 20 percent of the money - why not more? Replacing the field is the big problem. The issue is that while school sports accelerating so all fields filled everyday. So we are left with incinerator site on Concord Avenue near the Lexington town line is the best option. Maybe a softball field in the spring and others in the fall. May 24 is a meeting to work on the issue. Need school committee field, town meeting approval for about everything. So it will happen fast and the town will need to approve all the issues at the November special town meeting. "It was a helpful update," said Widmer. Mark Paolillo, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board will help resolve the issue.
7:25 p.m.: Remember back in February when all anyone could talk about was the BMLD electric substation? Well, since the 'yes' vote by the special town meeting, the substation is moving towards construction: the MBTA is moving forward allowing the town a right of way, payments are being made to the landowner and tenant to leave, the town treasurer has issued $14 million in bonds and the BMLD is talking to NStar on trying to make a deal.
7:32 p.m.: We are now going into the Special Town Meeting.
FYI: Celtics and 76ers tied early in the second quarter, 25-25.
7:33 p.m.: Town Meeting is now going to approve paying old bills - article 2 - worth $9,000 to law firms. It will be approved.
Now on to article 3 which is a standard transfer of funds of $88,000 going to the town administrator's office for transition costs - additional employees - and to pay for unanticipated veterans' services. It's approved.
7:37 p.m.: Here's the first possible contentious article, number 4, concerning providing $46,793 to Minuteman Tech for repairs to the school. Jack Weis, who represents Belmont on the Minuteman school committee, said a new assistant fire chief in Lexington said that the walls were combustible and the water department said that the school needed to replace water meters and install backflow unit. Both Warrant Committee and Selectmen give it the thumbs up.
7:44 p.m.: Weis said that this is not the time for the usual "protest" vote.
Joe White from Pct 4 asks if students helped with repair. Weis said repairs happened in July and August and the entire school was condemned so no one could enter. Vincent Stanton Pct 3 asked for a second opinion concerning the inspection; they had no standing, said Weis. Weis also notes that Belmont has to pay 10 percent of the cost due to town's pupil enrollment.
Paul Roberts, Pct 8, asked if non-member towns were asked to contribute. No, said Weis, the law prohibits that. Roberts said that tuition for non-member students is below the towns who pay for their member students. "Its looking like a charity" said Roberts.
Paolillo said that if looking to build a new structure, this town would not pay since 380 out of 800 students are member towns. "We want to change this," said Paolillo.
Article 4 passes unanimously.
Now to article 5, create a SPED stabilization fund with $250,000. Selectmen, warrant and school committee all favor its passage.
FYI: Celtics lead Philly at the half, 38-36.
8 p.m.: Paolillo said the SPED fund will be there to help ease any unexpected costs which happens with special education funds. And yes, the money funding the new account is from one-time savings, it is using $250K as "seed" money.
The town was all in agreement to fund needs that the community has, said Paolillo. It will be overseen by the Town Treasurer and needs to be appropriated by Town Meeting vote. Laurie Graham, chairwoman of the School Committee, the fund comes as part of a collaboration realizing that its hard to predict unanticipated needs, "it's a first step" addressing this issue.
Superintendent Thomas Kingston said this will be a pilot program; Warrant Committee chairwoman Liz Allison said that this is a useful thing because school's budget too conservatively without the knowledge of costs. "This should be looked on as an experiment," said Allison.
"We are not certain we have signed up for a multi-year funding," said Allison.
Anthony Ferrante, pct 8, asks what the history of sped costs, has the schools been underestimating costs.
Ed Kazanjian, pct 6, asked which town have been doing this. Arlington, Wellesley and Lexington, said Kingston. Kazanjian said that this fund could be a disincentive to stay on top of SPED cases.
Tomi Olson, Pct. 5, her understand SPED costs is predictable but not when new students come in. Could you explain a day program and other
Chris Doyle, pct. 4, how did you come up with this amount, couldn't more be put in OPEB (retiree) account? Paolillo said it was the right amount.
Donald Mercier, pct 8, said that the school dept. knew that the stabilization fund was coming so it could "loosen" the costs to fill other gaps. Paolillo said that since there was one-time funds, it was a way to pay for an expense and everyone working together to close the gap between level service and available revenue budgets.
8:20 p.m.: Allison said what would happen in the past the school knew that a chance that a student in a residential program and suddenly we have the costs. School Department would deal with by making an assumption that a little extra money was always there. So having a specialization fund is less expensive.
Anne-Marie Lambert, pct 8, said good weather had a lot to do with creating this fund so wouldn't it be better to establish a stabilization fund based on the uncertainty of special ed costs.
Karen Parmett, pct 3, said that since the town can not budget to the actual cost increases so the fund is needed.
Article 5 passes with no opposition.
No on to Article 6, to allocate $105,000 in free cash to create a stabilization fund to pay down the $183 million deficit in retiree health costs. This will become an annual expense from available funds. Town Treasurer Floyd Carman said "listen to this, a $183 million in unfunded payments" to emphasize the amount. To make the payment and have a policy will ensure Belmont will keep its AAA rating.
Ed Kazanjian, pct 6, wants to use the money to pay for the Butler playground. Jenny Fallon, pct , whats to know what OPEB is. Carman says the $183 million is health care benefits: 52% for schools, 24% public safety and the rest is for the town government, over and above premiums. The amount is part of an actuary study calculations.
Vincent Stanton, pct. 3, asks what is that rate of the liability growing. 8 to 10 percent a year. Stanton said that it is alarming and a former Warrant Committee said it will never been paid. What is the state doing? Paolillo said the state allows municipalities to have "planned design" and have some modest impact on OPEB. Ralph Jones said we have been given more freedom to change than pensions - the town can get own experts and take their own actions.
Stanton said that more than double town budget and take 40 years at $5 million so we have contracts that can't be sustained.
Bob McLaughlin said if the town loses its AAA rating, it will be hard to get it back and it will cost the town - in higher expenses - in the long run.
Carman said when he talks to the rating agency Moody's, they don't ask for dollar amount but if the town has a policy.
Now up for a vote, Article 6 passes with overwhelming support. A big victory for Carman.
Article 7, providing $150,000 to the new facilities manager in one-time monies to fund maintenance, repair and miscellaneous capital needs. Really, it just gives the new person some money to get the new department up and running. Article 7 passes.
FYI: Celts trailing the 76ers by 2 midway through the 4th.
Article 11 is now up and we have maps. Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, is describing three small takings – for about $100,000 (which is a safety net since the town does not expect to spend this much) – around Mill Street/Trapelo Road to widen the roadway so the state can start digging up Belmont Street and Trapelo Road to repair the main east/west corridor between Cambridge and Waltham. Should be a realitively untroubled article but it is a taking (even just a few feet) and it will mean cutting down 21 trees. Wisely, Clancy is going to explain this article with so much detail – and humor – that no one can say this is government over-reach.
FYI: It's tied up at the Garden, 65-65 with four and a half to go.
9:10 p.m. Wow, Clancy gets applause for his presentation. Every government official who makes presentations to Town Meeting should study the tape on how it's done. And do you need to ask if Article 11 passed? Of course. Additional news, that it will take two plus years to complete the Belmont/Trapelo corridor. So even after the World Cup in Brazil has a winner, the work will still be underway in Belmont.
9:27 p.m. Now on Article 9, the solar energy system zoning bylaw is before Town Meeting.
Sorry to tell you but the Celtics drop game two 82-81 to the 76ers. Sounds like they had some brutal attempts in the last minute.
While both sides of this measure, the Planning Board and the Belmont Energy Committee, are in agreement and it will likely pass easily, this is a historic bylaw as it is the first restrictions on solar panels by any municipality in Massachusetts and will likely be used as a template by other towns around the state.
Roger Colton, co-chairman of the Energy Committee, said the measure is not pro- or anti-solar but a good compromise. He points that Belmont used several existing laws such as those in Florida and elsewhere and then revised it. Interesting, the Historic District already has regulations on solar panels on homes within the district.
Colton answers David Chase's by saying the town's bylaw was created along the lines of regulations from Minneapolis. Donald Mercier, pct 8, why should excess power generate by a homeowner only to be sold back to any power system rather than only to the Belmont Municipal Light Department like Boston Edison. He can, said Colton.
Alexandra Van Geel, pct 7, who has panels on her roof, wonders about the glare issue and reason for the one foot off the roof edge. That is for safety reasons. Sami Baghdady, chairman of the Planning Board, said all existing systems will be grandfathered. One portion of the bylaw said the work needs to be "nice and workman like manner" - so who decides just what is "nice." That would be Glenn Clancy, said Colton.
It's now 10 p.m.
Article 9 passes.
The citizen petition article, number 10, that will extend the existance of the overlay district in the Central/Palfrey district until Dec. 31, rather than at the adjournment of this town meeting.
Bill Dillon, pct 4, is giving the presentation and says up front that he is a "mercenary," a real estate broker who earns fees for promoting development. But he said that he can promote a development that will benefit a developer and the town. Basically, Bill – who is a nice man, an upstanding resident and a very good and successful real estate broker – is asking to allow for the development of the old Video One at 307 Trapelo Road next to the Fire Department headquarters into a residental project. Dillon is a first-time Town Meeting member and it shows: he is making a sales pitch to Town Meeting using words like "hanging the Planning Board" and "welfare" which is going over like a lead zeppelin. Lots of snickering but also shouts of order that he is telling a tale which is beyond the article. Widmer says the article is about extending the overlay district's life span. Dillon should see how Clancy made his presentation.
Baghdady said he feels obligated to say that the Planning Board found inconsistancy within the initial overlay document. It is no secret that residential is a magnet many three story apartments in the area. Sami said he looked at the best interest of the town and their duty to extend the overlay for a single development. He wants to have Mr. Dillon and his client come to the Planning Board to create a new overlay district.
Jenny Fallon said the existing overlay district could benefit from new capital in the area so she would like to see the overlay district continue.
Andrea Serra-Masciari said while she did support an earlier development, she believes that the Planning Board should be able to do their job.
The article is moved and article 10 is defeated, not reaching the 2/3 approval needed. There is a standing vote after Dillon challenges the vote. "Can I say that I will buy a beer to everyone who is standing?" quipped Dillon. Widmer said he did not hear what was said. 82 for and 132 against.
The final article, number 8, is up which will change the town election day in Belmont from Mondays to Tuesdays, which every other municipality in the US conducts theirs. When Widmer asks for comment, someone shouts "Move (the article)." Article 8 passes without opposition.
And we are adjourned until Wednesday at 7 p.m. when Town Meeting debates and votes on the budget and capital projects.